How Uncle Sam Is Cheating People
Jude Wanniski
March 25, 1998


Memo To: Trent Lott
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Pakistan and the F-16 issue

I know you have a zillion things to do, but there is one I think should go to the top of your list. It involves Pakistan's purchase of 60 F-16 aircraft in 1988 from the U.S. government. I had dinner recently with Pakistan's Ambassador, Riaz Khokhar, to discuss the Islamic world's view of the United States as the Superpower, and I could not believe that the F-16 issue has not been resolved. It is downright embarrassing and if President Clinton should be ashamed of anything involving public policy these days it should be his failure to return to Pakistan the $658 million which it paid for aircraft we refused to deliver. In other words, we have had their money all these years, and because of Senator Pressler's amendment to a defense bill in 1990, the government has been prohibited from delivering the aircraft. It is perfectly reasonable for me to understand Ambassador Khokhar when he tells me that when the people of Pakistan think of the United States these days, they think of how we have cheated them out of $658 million. Worse, Trent, is my discovery that we are holding the aircraft in Arizona and charging Pakistan for warehousing costs.

The Pressler amendment itself was boneheaded, I'm afraid to say, a punishment to Pakistan because it had been fulfilling its contractual relation with Iran to help finish a nuclear power plant started back in the days of the Shah. The nuclear scientists I've consulted tell me there is almost zero chance the plant would be used to produce fuel for nuclear weaponry, but our defense bureaucracy is forced to operate on a zero-risk tolerance, which was the height of stupidity when we had the Delaney amendment on cancer risk, and is the height of stupidity when applied to Nuclear non-proliferation. You realize, Trent, our government does many stupid things, some of them with the compliance of Republicans who think they are doing good. The Pressler amendment, though, is another matter for another day. Still, I mention it to put the F-16 issue into a context you may never have been briefed upon.

In 1995, the last time pangs of conscience emerged on this issue, President Clinton vowed that it would be resolved. Since then, all we have done is shop around, trying to sell the aircraft to other countries that are not in violation of the Pressler amendment. We have advised the Pakistanis that if we got a good price for them, they would get the receipts, minus warehousing costs. Ask your wife Tricia about what she would do if Macy's tried to get away with this kind of deal. It is a disgrace that we should so treat a nation that has been a trusted ally over the many years of its independence. Ambassador Khokar tells me Pakistan had no drug problem until it admitted a few hundred thousand refugees from Afghanistan at our request, when nobody else in the region would take them. I'm utterly amazed that he could be as diplomatic as he is in describing the treatment Islamabad gets from us. If there is one country in the entire Muslim world that we should be able to count upon as a bridge to Islam's 1.4 billion people, it is Pakistan.

Please note that there is another effort underway in the House to resolve the issue. A letter was sent to President Clinton March 19 by Chairman Gerry Solomon of House Rules and Chairman Bob Livingston of House Appropriations. Twenty-one other congressmen, including Henry Hyde and House Minority Whip David Bonior also signed the letter. The letter notes that "The aircraft are now outdated and, in any event, will not fetch a price commensurate with what Pakistan originally paid." The final graph states:

We urge you to settle this issue so that our future relationship with the Government and the people of Pakistan will not be jeopardized. We support any fair settlement that resolves Pakistan's claim in this matter. If this matter can be adjudicated in another forum in which a suitable settlement can be reached, then the Administration should pursue that option. In either case, we believe a swift resolution of this issue is just and proper because it is not right for us to keep both the planes and their money.